Energy

EPA Chief Says There Was No ‘Negligence’ In The Gold King Mine Blowout

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told federal lawmakers Tuesday morning investigators looking into the agency-caused Gold King Mine spill have not found the agency was negligent in its handling of the incident.

“We have done both an internal investigation at EPA … the office of inspector general has looked at it,” McCarthy told lawmakers on the House Committee on Appropriations in a hearing. “We looked for and received an independent investigation by the Department of the Interior.”

“It was a mistake,” McCarthy said. “Have I found anyone that didn’t act responsibly and that should have known better? So far, the independent analysis we are seeing has not identified negligence, but we’re still continuing to look at the issue.”

McCarthy’s assertion that investigators have not found any “negligence” surrounding the Colorado mine blowout obscures the fact that the Interior Department’s technical review of the spill was not meant to assign blame.

Interior was simply tasked with reviewing the technical problems that led to the release of 3 million gallons of toxic mine wastewater, not the assign responsibility for the spill. In fact, Interior officials were specifically ordered to avoid assigning any blame for the spill.

“The scope of the Technical Evaluation appears to have been carefully crafted to avoid asking the most important questions about EPA’s decision and actions,” House Committee on Natural Resources lawmakers wrote in a recent report on Gold King Mine — a report that pins the spill on EPA’s negligence.

The Army Corps of Engineer expert tasked with reviewing Interior’s report slammed the department for not going far enough. Richard Olsen, the Corps reviewer who was the only non-Interior Department official to sign off on the technical review, wrote the “actual cause of failure is some combination of issues related to EPA internal communications, administrative authorities, and/or a break in the decision path.”

McCarthy also told lawmakers that while her agency caused the August mine blowout that spilled 880,000 pounds of toxic metals into nearby rivers, the EPA did not intentionally breach the mine.

“There is no question that the work that we did resulted in the blowout,” McCarthy told lawmakers on the House Committee on Appropriations in a hearing.

“I don’t want anyone to think that EPA was there at the time of the blowout to do anything other to continue the preparatory work for when the lead was coming back, and going to continue to consult with [the Bureau of Land Management] and others on how best to address this issue,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy’s remarks to House lawmakers, however, contradict the evidence surrounding Colorado’s Gold King Mine spill. A Daily Caller News Foundation investigation into the spill found EPA intentionally breached the mine in August, despite not having the proper equipment on site that day or doing any pressure testing of the mine mouth.

TheDCNF learned that EPA was at the mine that day to “relieve hydrologic pressure” agency workers believed was accumulating behind the closed-off mine mouth.

An email from Interior Department officials in the days following the August 2015 spill, released by House investigators, showed that EPA workers were on-site that day to breach the mine.

“On 8/5/2015, the EPA was attempting to relieve hydrologic pressure behind a naturally collapsed adit/portal of the Gold King Mine,” reads an attachment to the Aug. 7 email.

“The EPA’s plan was to slowly drain and treat enough mine water in order to access the inner mine working and assess options for controlling its discharge,” reads the attachment. “While removing small portions of the natural plug, the material catastrophically gave-way and released the mine water.”

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